Feb. 20, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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Now Washington's quarterback is setting up dunks for Phoebe Tham, a senior on UW's 25th-ranked gymnastics team.
There's Price teaching third graders how to throw a chest pass. There are the fourth-grade girls who showed him how to make origami animals.
Now Price is officiating a scrimmage/free-for-all among fifth-grade boys and girls.
"Pass it to the girls!" he tells the boys dribbling to nowhere.
"Hold up! Burrrt!" Price calls out, imitating a whistle sound. "That's a foul. Can't push."
This is what Price has been up to since he threw his last pass for the Huskies in December's MAACO Bowl Last Vegas against Boise State. He and Tham are interns for physical education teacher Jamie Matthews at Green Lake Elementary school in north Seattle, a couple miles from UW's campus.
And the college kids are having a blast.
"It's been really fun. It takes me back to when I was in elementary school," said Tham, a senior from North Vancouver, British Columbia, specializing on bars for UW gymnastics.
"Jamie keeps trying to get me to be a teacher. These kids are so great. Really. I always have so much fun being here. I always tell them, `I think I'm having more fun than you.'
"It takes a lot of patience. But it pays off."
When word leaked in December - OK, Matthews excitedly told people - that Price was coming to Green Lake to be an assistant gym teacher following winter break the schools' kids went gaga. So did some of the parents. In fact, Matthews had to institute a no-autographs rule for children, dads and moms alike.
"I've taught them basketball for two weeks," Price said. "We threw the football around (of course). They taught me how to play Capture the Flag.
"I had one kid come in and say he was going to bring big scissors into class, to cut my beard," he said, laughing.
Price, an African-American Studies major, is alternating this internship on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays with days in anthropology classes. Tham is using this teaching apprenticeship as what she calls a "nice change of pace" to her coursework as a biology major.
Yeah, it's a change of pace all right -- ratcheting up to the boundless energy of kids aged six to 11.
"I can't believe how much energy these kids have," Price said, laughing. "I called my mom after one of the first days I was here and asked her, `Did I have this much energy?'
When I stopped by Green Lake Tuesday afternoon, Rihanna's "We Found Love" was playing on Matthews' portable stereo and echoing through the low-ceiling gym. Colorful mats and cones were spread across the floor. A few fourth graders were running laps around the outside of the cones. Others were doing throwing drills and running to and from lines for what Matthews calls "Rainbow Races."
"I could have taken yoga," Price said. "This is waaaaay better."
Price seems almost liberated in here.
No, not almost. He is liberated.
Inside the Green Lake gym, there are no coverages for him to read. No pass rushers to avoid, no audibles to call. Fans aren't dissecting his every move. There's no credit or blame, depending on which way the winds of Husky football are blowing on a given fall Saturday. No practices, weights, sprints or coaches.
Only kids who don't care what his completion rate is. They only know they have the coolest gym teacher in equally cool Husky gear.
"I'm just playing. I'm free," Price told me, earnestly and revealingly. "No cones. No whistles."
"Just getting to play with these kids, it makes you take your mind off everything. Seeing them now just takes me back to when I was in elementary school. They've got a bed time, 8 o'clock, then they are up early in the morning and take out all this energy here."
He is wearing his black and purple Washington team sweat suit with his number 17 sewn in.
Tham is in a gray, Washington gymnastics hoodie.
The kids call Price simply "Keith." And Tham says "they just call me Phoebe. Scream it, actually - `PHOEBE!!!'"
A first-grade boy is making eyes at Tham as Matthews talks to the class. The teacher notices, and can barely talk through laughing.
Tham is across the gym, cracking up.
"My first-grade boyfriend," she says.
HE DOESN'T LIKE TO LOSE AT TETHER BALL, EITHER
After the "Rainbow Races" ended Price and Tham led the fourth graders out to the school's playground. As the kids jogged laps in the bright sunshine, Price and Tham started a game of tether ball.
The quarterback looked and sounded as if he'd just found the path to the Rose Bowl.
"Man, I haven't seen this game since I was in elementary school!" Price exclaimed, as if he was eight again. "This is a trip!"
Tham was having some trouble timing the swing of the ball and returning it with much force to Price, who was standing on the opposite side of the metal pole to which the yellow ball was chained. Then again, Tham was tumbling and flipping and balancing on beams in Canada when Price was playing tether ball back in his native south-central Los Angeles.
"I can tell you never played this in school," Price joked to his giggling fellow Husky.
Matthews finally came to Tham's aid. The teacher repeatedly and ruthlessly slapped the ball back at Price.
The quarterback looked and sounded as if he'd just found the path to the Rose Bowl.
"You can't do that!" some of the fourth graders yelled at the taken-aback quarterback. "You can't hold the ball! That's cheating!"
Price's competitiveness surfaced when he called out after Matthews won round one: "Let's play again. I can't go out like that!"
Matthews first established this Green Lake-Huskies link through UW's Student Athlete Academic Services office last spring. That's when Pamela Robenolt, assistant director of learning services for Husky athletics, brought about a half dozen football players including Justin Glenn to the school along Northeast 65th Avenue to lead gym classes for a day.
Robenolt told Matthews how Huskies have opportunities each academic term to go into public schools as tutors or to assist teachers through a program called the "Pipeline Project". Many UW classes include such service-learning components. Senior wide receiver James Johnson, for instance, is tutoring at a Seattle school this quarter and did similar work last quarter.
Robenolt explained most majors have internship opportunities, plus there are general studies options for internships. Each Husky needs a UW faculty sponsor and a site supervisor.
Price and Tham are having so much fun and have been so effective with the kids they are likely to extend the internship for spring quarter, into June.
"Keith is not looking forward to the three weeks of dance classes," Matthews said. "But I'm sure he'll bull through it.
"I feel very lucky to have these two."
So do her students.
"This is so cool!" fourth grader Andrei Shmulevich said on the playground after watching Price and Tham play tether ball.
Matthews had an uncle who played at UW. David Matthews, a flanker on the 1980 and '81 teams and a member of the 1983 graduating class, owns two Rose Bowl rings. She's had many family members who went to the school. She is married to a native of Wisconsin, so she has become an adopted "Cheesehead" fan of the Packers. She and her man have flown back to Green Bay to attend many games, and to San Diego when the Packers have come west.
"I try to limit the football conversation to a minimum," she said of talking with Price. "But I am failing miserably at that."
PRICE LOVES THE RETURN OF TUI
I asked Price what his particular role is during these "Rainbow Races," which are freer flowing than the basketball instruction I saw him giving earlier this month.
"Just watch them go wild," he said, as a Green Lake staffer brings in a walker with elaborate straps for one of the students from the school's special-needs class to use in the races.
This teaching gig isn't the only thing making Price smile this offseason.
He's "Teeth" Price again over being reunited with Marques Tuiasosopo. Sarkisian hired the Huskies' last Rose Bowl MVP, from 2001, to be his quarterbacks coach. Tuiasosopo was UW's assistant strength coach when Price was a backup to Locker three-plus years ago, before Tuiasosopo became an assistant at UCLA.
The return of "Tui" to coach him brings a sense of familiarity to Price - back to his wondrous 2011, when then-quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier tutored Price to a Washington-record 33 touchdown throws and completion rate of 66.9 percent.
(Tui) knows the system so well. He kind of reminds me of Coach Nuss.
"He knows the system so well. He kind of reminds me of Coach Nuss," Price said, between the first-grade class leaving and the fourth graders entering the gym. "Their coaching styles are similar. Obviously, he was around Coach Nuss and able to see the way he coached us.
"Yeah, I'm excited."
Price is also pumped about the latest tweak Sarkisian is making to keep Husky football fresh for his players. This year's spring practice is being split in two parts. It begins March 5, runs for two weeks prior to UW's final exams and spring break, then returns in April culminating in the spring game. That's April 20 at Memorial Stadium under the Space Needle at Seattle Center.
Price essentially took all of January off following Washington's bowl game to rest his legs. For the last few weeks he's been lifting and doing conditioning work with his teammates each morning, then going to the anthropology classes in addition to this independent-study internship at Green Lake.
"I'm excited. I can't wait," Price said of spring practice starting about a month earlier than any of his other four at UW. "It's going to be weird, but we don't have a choice but to get used to it, right?"
The fifth-year senior says he "definitely" feels the urgency of 2013 being his final season as a Husky.
"It's just crazy how fast it's gone by," Price said. "Now it's my last year, my last go-around."
And it's starting in a relatively world of elementary school. In a world of fun.
"It's just fun to watch them play," the Huskies' scrutinized quarterback said, "just coming in here and being free."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.